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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   HI
handfuls of vaseline into his wounds when changing his
bandages, and how intently he listened to the consulta-
tions of the surgeons. Stepan Ivanovich was the only man
in the ward who could move about, bent almost double, it
is true, and clutching at the bed rails, constantly cursing
that "fool of a bomb1' that had knocked him out, and that
""damned sciatica" brought on by the concussion.
Meresyev tried hard to conceal his feelings and
pretended that he was not interested in what the surgeons
were saying to each other. But every time his feet were
unbandaged for electrical treatment and he saw that the
sinister inflammation was creeping, slowly but steadily,
along the insteps, his eyes opened wide with horror.
He became restless and gloomy. A clumsy jest from a
fellow-patient, a crease on the bed sheet, or a broom slip-
ping from the hands of the aged ward maid, sent him into
a rage, which he suppressed with difficulty. True, the
strict, gradually increasing ration of excellent hospital
food quickly restored his strength, and the sight of his
gaunt body when the bandages were being changed, or
when he took electrical treatment, no longer called forth
the terrified glances of the girl medical students. But the
stronger his body grew, the worse his feet became. The
inflammation now completely covered the insteps and was
rising up the ankles. The toes were completely insen-
sitive; the surgeon pricked them with needles, forcing
them deep into the flesh, but Alexei felt no pain. They
succeeded in checking the swelling by a new method which
bore the strange name of "blockade", but the pain in his
feet increased. It became absolutely unbearable, In the
day-time Alexei lay quietly with his face buried in
his pillow. At night, Klavdia Mikhailovna gave him
morphia.
More and more often the surgeons, during their con-
sultations, mentioned the frightful word "amputate".
Vasily Vasilyevich would sometimes stop at Meresyev's
bed and inquire:
"Well, and how is the crawler today? Perhaps we'll
amputate, eh? One snip—and they're off!"
Alexei turned cold and shivered. Clenching his teeth to
prevent himself from shouting, he merely shook his head,
and the professor growled: